The quality and quantity of cases filed by Sheriff's Office detectives is forcing the Commission to review how the investigations budget is being spent, commissioners said.
A plan in consideration by the Ford County Commission would transfer the sheriff's investigative division budget to the county prosecutor following concerns over cases filed from the sheriff's detective unit.
At the request of the Commission, County Attorney Natalie Randall and her staff compiled comparative statistics between the Dodge City Police Department and the Ford County Sheriff's Office.
In 2013, the Ford County deputies filed 231 cases with the prosecutor. Of those, 214 were filed by patrol deputies and 17 were filed by investigators. In comparison, the DCPD keeps statistics that indicate an average filing of 549 cases per year over the past four years, 384 from patrol officers and 165 from investigators.
The statistics on the sheriff's office were compiled from records at the prosecutor's office and used a different methodology, but should be indicative for sake of comparison, Randall said.
The city's statistics were from four detectives and excluded statistics regarding the two focused drug investigators. The county employs four detectives, though they are also called upon for other policing duties.
"I'll be very honest with you, I am very frustrated not being able to get things done that need to be done," Randall told the Commission during a budget work session, Wednesday.
The County Commission's work session regarding the Sheriff's Office budget will occur Friday afternoon. Sheriff Dean Bush had been unaware of the plan until contacted by a reporter.
The numbers don't tell the tale, he said. "We work differently than the PD does. Our whole business and philosophy is different than theirs."
Often, cases filed by patrol deputies are with the assistance of detectives, he said. "Our investigators develop the patrols guys so they're not just report takers."
He plans on realigning some of the shift and duty rotations for his deputies next year, he said. Like other county bureaus, the Sheriff's Office is not awash in strong candidates and talent has to be grown, not recruited.
"We just work differently" from the city police department, Bush said, "and I don't think it is a fair comparison looking strictly at numbers when our philosophy is somewhat different."
Randall said the current output of the sheriff's four detectives could be exceeded by a single investigator. She would also have more faith in the quality of cases presented, she said.
"This 17, it doesn't look like a great number. The sad thing is those 17 have significant problems with the case. Those aren't 17 good cases, those are cases with significant problems," Randall told the Commission.
Afterward the meeting with the Commission, Randall said the plan was borne of frustration and at this point, "I'll do anything that'll get cases worked."
County Chairman Chris Boys said the plan would address a growing lack of faith in the effectiveness of the sheriff's investigators. The Commission is also faced with a lower property valuation following high-dollar exemptions to property taxes passed by the state.
Despite that, the Commission has desire to lower the mill levy and the county needs to try to save money where it can, he added.
The problem is "not just the quantity" of cases filed, Commissioner Shawn Tasset said, "but the quality."
During 2013, the four investigators in the sheriff's department clocked approximately 681 hours of overtime at a rate of $32 per hour. More than half of that total was recorded by a single investigator who earned 368 hours of overtime pay, accounting for 27 percent pay over base, according to county records.
The discussion to shift investigative duties to the prosecutor's office is further evidence of tensions between Bush and the Commission.
Frustrated with the cost of providing security at the 3i Show last week, approximately $13,000 mostly in overtime costs for senior deputies, Boys signed an order shifting several county managers to salary, exempting them from overtime pay — a plan that had been previously discussed in a public meeting but not yet acted upon.
The average cost of a deputy providing security during the show was more than $40 an hour, Human Resources Director Pat Heeke reported to the Commission.
Even as deputies were working at the expo center during the lead-up to the trade show, the commissioners heard bids for private security at roughly half the rate per labor hour. Bush defended the placing of captains and detectives on the security detail, saying of all his employees, they were the ones with the most flexibility in their schedules.
"The rest of our work doesn't stop because the 3i Show is going on," Bush said.
The order was made active for the current pay period which started at the beginning of the month, exempting senior deputies retroactively, though it is unlikely any had yet reached the 171 hour per 28-day pay period threshold for overtime rates.
"We were able to swap some people around a little bit. It really affected two people, two captains. The problem I've got is I don't have people. We're not flush with people. The number of people I can reassign that aren't already assigned to shifts and responsibilities, I don't have too many of those," Bush said.
"I was a little disappointed on what they (the Commission) did with that. … We didn't think we had any issue with (the reclassification). I think it would have been more appropriate to make it effective August 1."
The situation in the Ford County government highlights some of the complexities inherent to county governments across the country as commissions, sheriffs and prosecutors hold certain discretionary powers and oversight, and are all ultimately answerable to the same electorate.
The commission holds the power of the purse, can set employee policy and create certain laws. The sheriff can choose to enforce those laws and the prosecutor can choose to prosecute cases.
In addition, the sheriff is given broad discretionary powers over hiring, firing and disciplining deputy sheriffs under Kansas Statute 19-805. Sheriffs' power to manage personnel over county commissions' was bolstered by the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling on Lincoln County v. Nielander in which the Lincoln County Commission sought to dismiss the Sheriff Wray Nielander's undersheriff, the department's second-in-command.
The Supreme Court ruled that the commission did not have that power over the Nielander's duly-appointed deputies under state law.
Presumably, if the sheriff's department's investigative budget it shifted to the county attorney's office, those detectives would need to be assigned into other divisions in the sheriff's office or be fired.